Carnival of Evolution #29

Yes, it’s that time when we all get together in front of the screen to watch another beautiful game played by that fantastic team contributing to the Carnival of Evolution. This time hosted on the lovely green pitch of Byte Size Biology. So get your popcorn, sunflower-seeds, crisps or any other culturally-appropriate sports-watching food and…… the referee whistles! The game has begun!

Phenotypes! How do they happen?

Kicking off is Grrlsicentist from Punctuated Equilibrium telling us How the Penguin got its Tuxedo. While skillfully dribbling across the field, she tells the story of fossilized feathers from a giant, extinct penguin which contain fossilized melanosomes: intracellular structures whose shape can that tell us of the feather coloration of the bird. No, it was not black and white, but rather brownish and gray. However, melanosomes also strengthen the feathers, and today’s giant melanosomes, giving the familiar black coloration may have evolved as a results of a selection for feather strength, rather than color. Feather-minded (but far from feather brained!) she touches the ball across the defender and reports on how the parrot got its beautiful plumage. (Norwegian Blue?) Would you have thought resistance to bacteria degradation?! A short pass to Jerry A. Coyne who, while on the same topic, explains in Why Evolution is True about the evolution of cat coat-patterns and other issues relating to genetics of the coat in cats.  He makes a quick pass to Bjørn Østman who may have personally discovered the next stage* in feline evolution: the six digit cat! Bjørn toe-punches the ball hard and…

…the ball travels high forward left  to be intercepted by Eric Michael Johnson from The Primate Diaries in Exile. He high-knees the ball twice while asking whether our ancestors were polygamists, monogamists, or happy sluts? All this in his post: “Sex Evolution and the Case of the Missing Polygamists“. Eric launches it off with a strong left kick, the ball arches and jumps once on the ground, only to encounter  Jason Goldman’s knee, bouncing the ball while showing a movie which presents two different hypotheses explaining how wolves were domesticated into dogs. The first: young wolves would be adopted into the camps of early humans. Only those who were most tame would breed with eachother, and over many generations, the domestic dog would emerge. The second: wolves “chose” to be domesticated – they noticed a lot of tasty trash around human encampments, and if they were unafraid enough to hang around, they got to eat lots of leftovers, and those individuals would mate, and over generations, the domestic dog would emerge. His theory-and-ball juggling are interrupted by Kevin Z who takes over smoothly and talks about eyes and sex in lizardfishes posted at Deep Sea News. Kevin now with a square pass to John Wilkins who ponders a rather big question in our understanding of speciation: how many concepts of species are out there? He passes the ball all the way to Hannah Waters in the 16 meter box, who cleanly intercepts the ball while asking a related question: are Eukarya actually part of the Archaea domain, making life a two-domain system, or does the three-domain system still hold? But just as she is about to turn the ball around preparing for a shot at the goal, the referee (whom some say is biased towards the now-defunct 5 domain hypothesis) whistles for an offside violation, prompting loud boos from the crowd! Hannah grudgingly relinquishes the ball, which is given to the other team.

Evolution and Creationism

ProbabilityZero dead-balls a strong and furious kick. Furious over the agenda of the US Tea Party that includes teaching creationism in US public schools. All this in the recurial blog. The ball travels to Jayson D Cooke who is asking in an open letter why the University of Southern Queensland in Australia is hosting a creationist event under a scientific guise, he also defended his opinion on the air. Meanwhile in the stands, Michael D. Barton is selling cartoons of Darwin and evolution (from both sides of the fence, also here) from The Dispersal of Darwin. Some of the football fans accuse Michael of selling products of a man who advocated “Might is Right”. That is patently untrue, for many different reasons, the chief one being a misunderstanding of the word “fittest” in “survival of the fittest”. Fittest does not means “strongest”, but “the best able to reproduce”. However, Michael’s business associate, Eric Johnson decides to talk to the crowd about Darwin as a compassionate person, as manifested in his opposition to vivisection.

Lucas Brouwers from thoughtomics appears from ProbabilityZero’s blind-side, grabs the ball and, considerably faster than plate tectonics, advances up the pitch to the rival penalty box. Although, speaking of plate tectonics, Lucas talks about how freshwater crabs help us map continental drift. He is tackled by a rival player, falls, gets up, picking burrs from his socks, and wondering how they evolved? (The burrs, not the socks.) The answer comes from Melissa who while out walking the dog talks about the burry man, the burry dog and burdock. Why she is walking the dog in the middle of a football game? No idea.

Lucas forward-passes to another player concerned with speciation, Jeremy Yoder at Denim and Tweed talks about the speciation of rockfish: it appears that in many cases depth, not geographic distance, is the allopatric factor in rockfish speciation.  He passes it to DeLene Beeland who takes this question even further: how do we define species in the first place? She turns the ball around, sets for a kick and… goooooaaaaaaal!!!!! Yes! In the stands, Digital Cuttlefish dances with joy.

The referee whistles for halftime, and the players, sweaty and covered with mud and burrs step off the pitch.


While we are waiting for the second half to begin, Bjørn Østman tells the viewers at home why intelligent people watch more TV. Or, perhaps not? Read to find out. This public service announcement has been sponsored by Time Tree: just enter the names two species, and find out how long ago they diverged! While the players are resting, they audience watches a beautiful video of the Applied Evolution Summit in Heron Island, courtesy of R. Ford Denison from This Week in Evolution. Also, Bjørn announces the long-awaited results of the Carnival of Evolution Readers Survey. One interesting point that came up is the contentious phrasing of the question: “do you believe in evolution?”

The second half begins. A short pass by Greg Laden explaining what is the most important human adaptation. (Hint: no, not bipedalism.) Zen Faulkes sprints forward – and wonders: did sprinting behavior shape the stings of scorpions, or is this explanation yet another “just so” evolutionary story? Cross-pass to R. Ford Denison who talks about the evolutionary benefits of cooperation and kin selection. Specifically, that Hamilton’s rule still holds, even though it has recently come under fire in a much publicized article in Nature. Competition is also an adaptive force, and Becky Ward tells us about the weird competition between a spider and a plant: both of which are predators! She passes to Lucas Brouwers, who makes small adjustment to the ball’s trajectory before passing it on, noting that evolution also generates novelty through subtle tinkering.

So how does the game end? It doesn’t. Evolution does not end. It just keeps going on and on and on… The next Carnival will be hosted at This Scientific Life. It is never to early to submit.

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7 Responses to “Carnival of Evolution #29”

  1. Lab Rat says:

    Awesome commentary! Well done for putting this together, very exciting game.

  2. Cuttlefish says:

    *dances with joy*

  3. Bob O'H says:

    Oh shit. I’d better alert the groundsman to prepare the pitch for the next game.

    And get my arse into gear and write something for the carnival too.

  4. Lucas says:

    Awesome edition Iddo! I really enjoyed reading this one.

  5. Great running commentary!

    But it brought to my attention something I had missed: Bjorn Ostman’s supposed discovery of the next step in the evolution of the feline cat being six toes. Helloo!! They’re already here – in the form of Maine coon cats, which have been around for centuries.

    I know. My Maine coon cat Smokey has six toes. And that is one way of identifying whether the cat is a true Maine coon or not.

    Sorry to blow your theory out of the water – or off the football field, Bjorn.

  6. Iddo says:

    @Karen Hanegan
    Thanks, I did not know that about Maine Coon cats.

    Also, I placed the “stage in evolution” phrase as a bait… it’s an often-used misnomer. There are no “stages” in evolution, since evolution is not a teleological process that goes through stages. Even Larry Moran missed that one… 😉